Remember that Seinfeld episode where Kramer puts up a group of Japanese tourists in an oversized chest of drawers? Heading to Whistler’s Pangea Pod Hotel, I couldn’t stop thinking: Was that what this was going to feel like?
Billing itself as Canada’s first “boutique” pod hotel, Whistler’s Pangea is not a hostel, not a hotel, but the best of both worlds – or so the literature promised.
Unlike traditional hotels with private rooms or hostel dorms filled with bunk beds, the Pangea houses guests in pods – units of about 40 square feet, each containing a double bed surrounded by three walls and a curtain. A total of 88 are stacked two high and divided into eight suites.
Pangea, which opened in August, takes the capsule hotel concept from Japan and shines it up with impeccable design, luxurious (if diminutive) sleeping quarters, common areas meant to foster social interaction and as much privacy as one can hope for in such a situation. If you’re travelling to the mountains, the logic goes, chances are you want to spend the day on the slopes, or at least outside - not holed up in your room.
The hotel is the brainchild of Russell and Jelena Kling, who met 15 years ago at – where else – a hostel (in Prague). Russell, born and raised in South Africa, was on a backpacking break from his high-pressure finance job in New York. Jelena was travelling between semesters at the University of Belgrade, where she was studying biomechanical engineering. After some long-distance romancing, Jelena moved to New York.
In 2009, they both quit their jobs to travel, starting with a one-way ticket to Rio de Janeiro. Over the next three years, they noticed a gap in the accommodation market, meeting many travellers who were “past the hostel stage but don’t want to blow the budget on the hotel,” Mr. Kling says.
So after relocating to Vancouver, they spent the next five years planning Pangea, acquiring a 1970s Whistler timeshare property that had fallen into disrepair. They stripped it down to the bones, rebuilding it as a chic, design-forward property.
“We’re maniacal people; we focus on the details,” Mr. Kling says.
They’ve thought of nearly everything – the wood-lined pods have little doors for your luggage (or storage closets just outside the pod), multiple charging points including USB ports and lockable cabinets with cable-sized openings. Pods are also outfitted with good lighting, a mirror, hooks and tiny garbage receptacles.
There is a fan for air circulation – but more to the point, to create white noise. They have also used acoustically absorbent materials and offer ear plugs free of charge.
“Our biggest concern was acoustic privacy, hands down,” Mr. Kling says.
Super-fast WiFi is free. Two social areas – the Living Room and a rooftop patio – serve alcohol, as well as good coffee and food at reasonable prices. On the main floor, the Toy Box offers space-efficient storage for skis, boards and bikes, a place to hang wet clothing and lockers for boots.
The vibe is Ace Hotel; the price is not. Pods range from about $50 a night per person midweek in the low season (and with an opening promo code applied) to about $180 a night on a peak season weekend. While they were designed for single occupancy, they can sleep two (for an additional charge).
If you’ve ever tried to book a Whistler hotel room during ski season, you know what a bargain this is. For instance, a room at the three-star Crystal Lodge right across the stroll from the Pangea costs about $700 a night over Christmas, with a minimum stay of five nights (per room, not per person). A room at the luxurious Fairmont Chateau Whistler will cost more than $1,100 a night.
“Our guests have money to spend, but not to waste,” Mr. Kling says. He figures his guests would rather spent their cash on activities. “Playing in Whistler is expensive.”
Still, Pangea is not for everyone – definitely not for young families; you have to be 18 to stay. And if room service and TV in the privacy of your own suite is your ultimate après-ski situation, look elsewhere.
But I can report that, no, it is not like sleeping in a dresser.
When bedtime rolled around, the acoustic tricks worked, for the most part. I couldn’t hear activity from other pods (thank God), but the white-noise fan did not drown out the click-bang of the suite’s heavy doors closing.
Bathrooms here consist of four individually accessed components: a toilet, shower, curtained-off dressing room and, in the suite’s hallway, a standalone vanity with sink. (One of the suites is female-only.) They are tasteful, with rainfall shower heads, body wash and conditioning shampoo provided. Music plays during the day to bolster the acoustic privacy. Because checkout time is 10 a.m., there was a rush hour for showers; on my morning, all three were occupied when I wanted to wash, so I had to do a bit of awkward waiting around.
But I eventually got my shower. And, surprise, I had one of my best sleeps in recent memory. If I return to Whistler on my own, especially in high season, I would stay there again.
The writer stayed as a guest of Pangea Pod Hotel. It did not review or approve the article.